Across, the short film about the boyhood of America’s first black priest, Father Augustine Tolton, was shown at two very special recent events. The first screening was on the campus of the Nashville Dominican Sisters, and included guest-of-honor Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago. The bishop is the postulator for Tolton’s sainthood cause, and flew to Nashville to see the film and speak to the nuns and their guests. Along with Writer/Director Christopher Foley, he took questions from the audience after the film and talk.
Perry was able to share for the first time publicly, the news that Father Tolton’s cause had taken the next step toward sainthood earlier in the week. The commission in Rome to study his life had unanimously approved the case to be sent to Pope Francis. This sets up the high likelihood that Tolton will be named ‘Venerable’ later this year.
The day was also notable for a ‘Communion of Saints’ connection that was made by one of the Sisters in attendance. She noted that, in the late 19th century, the same bishop who had invited Tolton to Chicago had previously been the bishop of Nashville. In fact, it was that same Bishop Patrick Feehan who had twice saved the Nashville Dominicans from bankruptcy AND had sponsored the building of the very room where the screening was being held. Now called “the Oratory,” the room used to be the nuns’ chapel and one of the stained glass windows was inscribed with Bishop Feehan’s name.
In a separate event, the film was shown at the Catholic Pastoral Center, the headquarters for the Nashville Diocese. Joan Watson, Director of Adult Formation, organized and hosted the event. Foley, along with lead actress Nina Hibbler-Webster and Deacon William Hill spoke to the audience and fielded questions. Hill presented a history of black Catholics in Middle Tennessee while Foley and Hibbler-Webster talked about the making of the film and the life of Augustine Tolton and his mother. Foley also updated the audiences about the progress of turning the short film into a full feature film about Tolton.
Both screenings were kicked off by a live performance of the film’s theme song, “North Star,” by Mary Beth Anthony. Not only did she write and produce the record for the film, but she also co-produced the movie itself with her husband Christopher Foley.
The events were well-attended by movie-lovers, history buffs, and faithful looking to learn more about an unsung hero in the pre-history of the Civil Rights movement.
Please scroll down for some images from the events.